What are we going to do with the day we have been given?
John 9 is where I want to focus. Vision Correction is really about the entire chapter of John 9. It has to do with the healing, we started to talk about last week, of the man who was born blind. It’s one of the rare chapters in the Bible that is entirely devoted to one incident. In the coming weeks, the next four that lead into Easter, Palm Sunday, and Easter, we’re going to really zero in on the narrative. We’re going to look at the account and get into all the exchanges that occur. It’s really colorful, and to watch the blind man’s transformation in faith. I know that even those of you who are watching with us right now at the Lake Merced Campus may recall that we talked about his healing. At least we said that’s what was going to be happening. We’re going to dig into that and watch how he emerges as a believer and eventually a confessor of Jesus.
It was a process that got the blind man there. We’re going to talk about that. That’s not my purpose this morning. My purpose this morning is to zero in on one phrase Jesus uttered that was right before His healing touch. It’s something I want us to also consider through this sort of life that we have. I want to talk about the work that God wants us to do. You can see this in John 9:1-4. We’re going to read them through. If you have your Bible, Bible app, or handout, you can follow along. It says that Jesus passed by, and saw a man who was blind from birth. His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born like this, born blind, never saw anything in his entire life?” We sat with that a little bit. Something none of us can relate to, he never saw anything. All his world had been darkness.
Jesus’ disciples asked Him because they saw Jesus looking at the blind man and it caught their attention because Jesus was leaving the temple into the city streets of Jerusalem. He sees this man there who’s begging. Maybe they had seen him before. Maybe they had walked by him before, but Jesus stops and starts looking at him. That catches the disciples’ attention. They don’t know what to say. Jesus isn’t saying anything. He’s just looking at him as if he’s listening. Maybe out of their discomfort or their entry, they say, “Lord, situations like this make us wonder sometimes why they happen.” The disciples reveal their presupposition in their worldview. They just want to know who sinned to get this man in this place? Was it him? They didn’t know anything about his life or was it something connected to his parents or family, or something connected to a generational curse.
That was the question they asked. It was theological. I don’t blame them for wanting to know why. A lot of us want to know why when things don’t make sense. Why does God allow this? Or why does that happen to good people? All those questions. They’re legit. It’s interesting though what Jesus answers. In verse 3, Jesus says, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, no. I tell you but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” It wasn’t like Jesus was saying not that he was born blind so he could do a miracle. What Jesus was getting at was this man’s blindness at this moment for Jesus was an opportunity. It was a moment for God’s grace to be remarkably displayed. There are many things going on here in this little simple little passage that opens up the ninth chapter. We may look at it and think, “Oh yeah, just Jesus making a statement.”
I want us to at this through both an artistic and a theological eye. I want us to see that when Jesus looked at this man, He saw clearly something. As the day was coming to its close, He saw in this man born blind a symbol of everything that He had come to address. At least in part, everything that Jesus was born to address, everything that He was going to address. The blindness, at least in part at a physical level could be viewed as all disease, all suffering, all evil, all, and even death as a little byproduct of a sin impacted birth broken world. It represented the spiritual condition of humanity, The utter darkness we find ourselves in, apart from God’s overture of love towards us, the very overture that Jesus was, the very light of the world that He declared Himself to be. Jesus sees in this man physically everything that He has come to do spiritually to open the eyes of the blind, to give His life that we might have life. We talk about this all the time. If you think about it in John 1, it opens up that way as well. The whole book of John opens up and it’s eye-opening to see how the Book of John begins. Watch as we read through it, the weaving in of metaphor, light and life, darkness, things that symbolize metaphor.
I put this in the hand of John 1:1. I’m not going to spend a lot of time commenting. What I want us to see is how it perfectly connects with what we’re looking at. Because it says, in the beginning, was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God and all things were made through Him. Without Him, nothing was made that was made and in Him was life and the life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness. It opens up with this light and darkness. The very beginning of the message is God saying into the darkness comes the light. It says all things were made through Him. Without Him, nothing was made that was made. In Him was the light. The light was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not comprehend it. There was a man sent from God, His name was John. This man came as the forerunner, a witness to bear witness of the Light that all through Him might believe.
This man John was not that light. He was sent to bear witness or to welcome in that light. The true light, which gives light to everyone coming into the world. He was in the world, the world was made through Him and the world did not know Him. He even came to His own. Those who should have seen and Jis own did not receive Him. But as many as do receive Him, to them He gives the right to call themselves children of God, to those who believe in His name. Where are we there? If you look at it, you see the weaving together. Now, shift back to the account, John 9. In our mind, let’s think of the pictures of the streets in Jerusalem. Even today, the ancient feel of Jerusalem is still there in the old city. Some places where Jesus walked literally are still there. The sun was falling and shadows are growing on the cream-colored stone streets of Jerusalem. One wonders if the whole idea of the lostness of humanity and the idea of Him coming as the light of the world was on His mind when He pauses to gaze into the face of that blind man. Jesus is thinking about everything He’s come to do, to bring light into the darkness, to bring light to those who’ve never seen, not just physical, but spiritually.
As he was looking at this man, the disciples noticed it. We talked about that. They noticed his fixed gaze and asked their question. That question revealed their presupposition. Peering at them when they asked the question, “Lord, who sinned? Who sinned, did he do it or was it his parents?” Jesus looks back at them. I imagine Him pulling His eyes off the man, looking at them back at him and saying, “Neither of them did. It was not that this man sinned nor his parents. No, I tell you, but that the works of God may be displayed in him.” In verse 4 and key, “now I tell you that we must work the works of Him who sent me while it is day. The night is coming when no one can work.” That’s Jesus’s answer to that. It’s interesting to think about what He says. If you listen closely, can you hear the cross? Because it’s there. We must work the works of Him who sent me while it is day. Night is coming, when no one can work.
Jesus was cognizant of His limited day. It was on His mind. He knew it was coming close. The hour from which He was born was soon to be at hand. He was under no illusions. He saw the cross looming over His day. His earthly ministry was nearing its close. In nature, some days are shorter and some are longer. But the truth is none of us knows if we can use the metaphor of Jesus. No one knows the length of our day. No one knows really how long we’re going to live on this side. We don’t know it. We don’t know the span of our life. We don’t know how many years we really have. We don’t know when it will be our last day. We all have a last day on the calendar somewhere, just as real as we had a first day. Speaking of the length of days, today is my wife’s birthday. Yeah. It’s really cool. It has a special meaning for me. Believe me, I am not going to tell you how old she is. I’m not going to do that. What I will say is that she is a beautiful woman on the inside as well as on the outside.
Speaking of the outside, my oldest daughter was joking with us. We were both sitting at the table last week and she said, I don’t know how it came up. They were talking about their mom’s birthday coming up next Sunday, being on a Sunday. They said, “Man, mom, you look so much younger than you are.” I said, “What about me? What about me?” They said, “No. Mom looks about 10 to 15 years younger.” She says, “But you look your age, right?” Thank you, Chloe. I appreciate that. How old is my wife? Well, I’ll give you two clues. She is two months older than me. That always plays really big for me because there are moments like these where I say, “Oh, you’re this age and I’m still this age.” But it really is nice at a decade. Because all of a sudden, woo, you’re way up there right now. I’m still over here in this decade. We always have a lot of fun with that. Here’s another clue. Not only is she two months older than me, but I’ve been married to her for 34 of her birthdays. Wow. That is right. As I kissed her before leaving for church, I had one of those moments where I was both grateful and reflective. Grateful for having had her for so many years. I didn’t take it for granted for a second. Then I reflected that so many years had flown by, wow.
We have a limited day loved ones and our time will not be forever on this side of the great divide. It’s not going to be. I don’t know about you, but I was thinking a lot about this. It got me thinking about our limited day. Jesus talked about it will not always be day. Jesus was saying night comes when you can no longer do the work. I was thinking about that also because of what’s been in the news obviously last week. The death of Billy Graham, stunning, the extraordinary life of a man who’s even now being celebrated. I guarantee you, all the weekend shows and on the news talk and everything else, Billy Graham is going to be a big part of the discussion. He’s going to be a part of our national discussion all through the week as his body is brought to the rotunda and people honor his contribution.
Billy Graham was, we had a little shot of him both as a younger man and as a much more aged man, is one of the most remarkable figures in history, ever. If you think about it this way, he preached to more people the message of Jesus than any human being who has ever lived. That is stunning. They call him America’s pastor. Part of it had to do with the time in which he lived, the uniqueness of the technologies he employed. One of the most amazing things about this man was the way he conducted himself. No one’s perfect, but just a testimony of duration, consistency, and integrity that no one’s ashamed of his life. He finished well. Almost living to be a hundred-year-old, just an extraordinary thing to have. There will never be another person like him. I was thinking about it because a few years back, I was actually reading a book that he wrote. It was called Nearing Home,. I’m just going to read the front opening of it because I think he’s been so much a part of our discussion. I’m thinking about the span of our day and the life of what Jesus said.
Graham wrote, “I never thought I would live to be this old.” For one, he assumed he was going to die young. The reason he thought he was going to die young if you read about his life is he thought the way he lived was hard in terms of the hours that he lived and poured his soul into it. He was traveling all the time. He would have long hours. He was a really hard worker and longevity wasn’t in his family’s line. So, he just assumed he was going to die young, or at least not live long. He says, “I never thought I would live to be this old. All my life I was taught how to die as a Christian, but no one ever taught me how to live in the years before I die. I wish they had because I am an old man now, and believe me, it’s not easy. Whoever first said it was right, old age is not for sissies. Get any group of older people together, and I can almost guarantee what their favorite topic of conversation will be their latest aches and pains. I will soon celebrate my 93rd birthday.” He wrote this almost six years ago. “I know it won’t be long before God calls me home to heaven. More than ever I look forward to that day, not just because of the wonders I know heaven holds in store for me and for every believer but because I know that finally all the burdens and sorrows that press down upon me at this stage of my life will be over. During the last year, the physical ailments common to old age really have taken their toll on me.
I also look forward to that day because I will be reunited with Ruth, my beloved wife, and best friend for almost 64 years, who went home in 2007 to be with the Lord she loved and served so faithfully. Although I rejoice that her struggles with weakness and pain have all come to an end, I still feel as if a part of me has been ripped out.” He’s 93. “I miss her far more than I ever could have imagined. While the Bible doesn’t gloss over the problems we face as we grow older, neither does it paint old age as a time to be despised or a burden to be endured with gritted teeth, that is if we have any left.” He goes on to say, “Nor does it picture us in our latter years as useless and ineffective, condemned to spend our last days in endless boredom or meaningless activity until God finally takes us home. Now, instead, the Bible says that God has a reason for keeping us here. If he didn’t, he would take us to heaven far sooner. Someday our life’s journey will be over. In a sense, we all are nearing home more than we know. As we do so, I pray that you and I may not only learn what it means to grow older but, with God’s help, also learn to grow older with grace and find the guidance needed to finish well.”
Then I read an article in which it says that, throughout his life, Billy Graham had an air of “I’m not important, God is important.” It didn’t seem like a line but a conviction. He said once, “I am not going to heaven because I have preached to great crowds. I am going to Heaven just like the thief on the cross who said in that last moment, ‘Lord, remember me.'” And Christ said to him, “This day you will be with me in Paradise.” Since Wednesday morning, last week, one of his quotes was all over social media. I asked if they could put it up. It says, “Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.” Isn’t that amazing? I love that. When I was thinking about this, I was thinking, man, we all have a day now. I don’t think all of us should assume we’re going to live to be 99. That’s pretty amazing. But can you hear me when I say that the time to honor God is now, while it is day. God has work for us to do today between now and that day, whatever it is, but we all will have one.
Some of us are going to ease into it like a day turning into twilight and then into darkness. Others of us are going to end more abruptly. I’m not just talking about having our relationship with God so that we can go to heaven after this life is done. That’s big. I don’t want to diminish it even though my tone was right there. The Lord is also reminding us that it should impact the way we live now. The reality of where we’re going is not just meant to affect us in terms of how we think about what we can never really understand and are a little bit afraid of. Probably, the only real way we get prepared for it is when this body of ours starts to give out to such a degree that we start to yearn for it. We yearn for a new beginning because the old cannot contain the spirit within it. Like this body, like a tent wears down. Even the youngest among us at some point will walk this line. What I’m saying is between now and then, there is something that God has for us to contribute while we have life, breath, energy, and capacity, this is our opportunity.
There are people to love today. There are promises to keep today. There are resources not to clutch, but to give to the Lord’s work today. There is service to render for Him on His behalf today, while it is the day, while we have life, not tomorrow. The night is coming, when none of us can work. There will come a day when we will not be able to do anything in His name on this side. Whether our life ends or because we get to a point where there’s not much more we can do than pray, which isn’t something, no question. There is a window of opportunity that I’m trying to get at for each of us to lay up for ourselves. If we believe the words Jesus, who said, do not just focus on laying up treasure on this earth, where moth and rust decay things, and thieves break in and steal it away. The economy turns and it’s gone. Don’t live your life like that, Jesus said. Lay up for yourself treasure. We can decide if we believe Him or not.
“Lay up for yourselves instead, I tell you,” Jesus said. Treasure in heaven where no one can take it away and nothing can remove it. Neither moth nor rust can decay it and no thief can break in and steal it. What you do in my name is sent somewhere and it awaits you. There’s power in that word. That calls us to places where we start asking questions. I’m not saying that our life is so short to depress us. I would never do that. I’m saying it to impress us. That we would press into the things God is calling us to pursue and not delay and put off tomorrow what today we should be doing. It’s not always the big things either. It’s the small things that God notices that sometimes no one else sees. Sometimes people do see them. That’s fine. That’s good. A lot of people saw a lot of what Billy Graham did. But in the end, the Lord sees all kinds of things. What he asks of us is to be responsible for what He’s called us to do.
I’m going to ask a question. It goes back to the fourth verse We must work the works of Him who sent me while it is day. There it is. The night is coming when no one can work. You see that second word there? “Must.” Interesting Jesus uses that word because we must. The question I have is do we have a must? I think we need one. We need a big picture of “must” if I can put it that way. A driving, guiding principle that brings meaning to our life. What is at the center of our life? The sun, that is the sun around which everything orbits. Is the sun which everything orbits in our life, right? What is at the center of our life? What is the dominant principle of our life? Seek first, Jesus said, the kingdom of God, the loving realm of Jesus at work in your life and order everything off of it. All these things shall be added unto you. They’ll fall right in their proper place if you keep the first thing first.
In the big picture, we need a must. In the little picture, I think I’m going to call it the seasonal picture we need a must. We need something that we are pursuing at this stage of our life that we can connect to God. We should be able to put our finger on something that motivates us. Because if we are not pursuing, if we don’t have a must, you know what we do? We start drifting. Human beings as we are in this present state, when we drift, we usually drift into trouble. Our natural drift is not to improve. Our natural drift is to get ourselves in trouble. Our natural drift is to get ourselves addicted to things. Our natural drift, especially in a toxic culture like ours, is to get ourselves damaged.
One of the best things we can do to combat drift in our lives is to have an operating must in our lives, which is why it is essential at this stage in our life, wherever it is, to think about what God is calling me to do, where I am. That leads to the second piece here, which is, what is the work He has for us to do in this season, on this day to use the language of Jesus. Some of us may recall that last week we talked about the work that God may want to do in us. We talked about how to live in the whys of our life, not getting stuck there. But this is more about what is the work, not that so much that God wants to do in us, but what is the work that He wants to come from us, through us, if you will. What is our seasonal calling? I don’t have time to talk about it a lot. When I was reading a book called Courage and Calling by Gordon Smith, who’s really a great writer. He talks about vocational life transitions.
It’s a really good book. If you’re a younger adult, especially in your 20s or your 30s. He talks about what he calls strategic life transitions vocationally, where you’re trying to find yourself, what am I supposed to do with my life? How does God play into that? I could talk about that for a while. He says there are basically three. I’m not going to go into them all. But he talks about one that happens when we’re going from adolescence into our adulthood. He talks about that 20 something years where we’re trying to find out who we are. He talks about that other transition he calls a vocational transition when you’re trying to figure out who I am supposed to be at my job. He talks about going from that young adulthood into those middle years. How, when we get into our thirties, we tend to have a sense of what we’re probably supposed to be doing and what we’re going to do for the next 20 years or so. Then he talked about that other really strange one at the back end of our life. We transitioned out of our jobs into either a second life or into retirement. Those are three vocational transition points. In the course of the discussion, he quotes Emerson. We’re talking about how we live out our day. We’re talking about what Jesus said. Don’t assume you will always have a day. What does Emerson write?
Emerson says this is what he calls self-reliance, “There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives,” I would say in everyone’s, “education when they arrive at the conviction that envy is ignorance.” Don’t run past that. “Envy is ignorance and imitation is suicide. We must take ourselves for better or worse as our portion. That though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to the one, but through their toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given them to till.” A couple of things stand out here. Envy is ignorance and imitation of suicide. Let us quit wishing to be somebody else. Instead, focus on being our authentic God created selves. Even more specifically, for those of us who follow Jesus, let us seek to be the unique workmanship that He has made us to be the best authentic God created itself we can be. The Bible says in Ephesians 2, “we are His workmanship, His art, the products of His creative impulse, created in Christ Jesus for good works, born to serve, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
The word for workmanship is poiesis. In Greek, it means poem. He’s writing to us. We are in the eyes of Jesus, this wondrously flawed, beautiful epic poem because we’re capable of the sublime of the hero and the beautiful we’ve been created to be filled with good works. We must work the work of Him who sent us. Go back and look at that Emerson quote, “But through their toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given them to till.” It reinforces that so much meaning is found in doing the work that Jesus taught us as we have been given to do on the ground we’ve been called to do it on. I’m going to just say these things fairly quickly. Coming off of that, I just want to submit a couple of things. I’ll try to do it as quickly as I can without rushing past it. What this implies, if we combine what Jesus was saying with what we just looked at for what Emerson wrote, thinking about the span of our day and its limitations, this is what I want to suggest we consider.
Accepting with grace our limitations is number one. Smith talks about that. It’s like refusing to live an illusion. Become at peace with our story as it’s unfolding. Don’t get stuck in envy and imitation. A lot of times say, “Oh, if I was only like this person or if I had their things, if I look like this, whatever,” you get to a point that says when you really grow, you realize that envy is bad. Don’t get stuck in it. We need to accept the better and worse of what God has given us to use. As we own and honor that in our lives, all of it, and we submit it to Him, then we take responsibility for our giftedness. Instead of saying, “Oh, if I was only this or that,” we begin to use our imagination and we begin to say, “Lord, how can you use me on the plot of ground that you’ve called me to as the unique person you’ve made me to honor you in the limited day that I have. What would that look like right now? Where I’m at? Not somewhere else. Not trying to be like anybody else, just being who you made me to be and trying to honor you as best as I can in the time that I’ve been given. Where I’m at on the ground that I’ve been given to toil on, to do my work on. What is the poem you want me to be right there? Not getting stuck in attitudes that are just unhelpful. Can’t change my past. I’m not going to worry about what you have or why I’m not like that. Or if I had these gifts, no. Who did He make me to be? How do I honor Him with it on this day on the ground that He’s given me to live it out in and on?
The last thing I’ll say, and we roll it out in the form of a question is, where in the kingdom are we serving the kingdom of Jesus? What works are we working for the Lord while it is day? That’s my question. Maybe small. If you have a chance if you could, can you just look at your fingernails because you should see some kingdom soil in those fingernails? Is there any? Mine are clean. That’s not good. Is there any kingdom soil in these fingernails or is it only stuff that I’m working on? The soil of my choosing? Is there any connection?
If I were to say, “Lord, I have something. Here it is. It’s there. I work in the soil of the kingdom. I’m serving.” Someone will say, “Well, what are you talking about?” It might sound so simple, but Jesus said, “if you’ve done it to the least of these, you’ve done it to me.” Greeting and seeding a guest, hosting a small group, praying a prayer for a wounded soul as part of a prayer team, hosting a new hire to help new ones find their way, holding a baby in the nursery, teaching a child about the love of Jesus, giving them a gift that will stay with them like what was given to me for the rest of our lives, sharing some coffee or some amazing toast and a smile in His name in the church or at Lake Merced, moving a camera. Pressing a button that lights up a room so people can worship God together in a joyful place. Setting up a church like what happens every week at the Lake Merced Campus or tearing down one. Parking a car so that other people can have a joyful experience in the Lord’s house. Teaching a Bible study because someone taught us.
Come on now, what kingdom soil is under the fingernails? Pastor, you’re trying to manipulate us in the serving, aren’t you? Partly yes. The other part is I’m trying to motivate us to get to work on the things that really matter. I believe truly that no little thing goes unnoticed by the Lord when it’s done in His name. Serving at all levels, not only does it bless others, but it helps us. It keeps us tethered in community in ways that wouldn’t happen. It makes our faith more than just receiving. It means we’re giving. I’ve never seen a spiritual muscle that works best just like any natural muscle when it’s only sitting there doing very little but watching the strength grow in the doing. Show me your faith, James says, faith without works empty and dead. Kingdom, the soil under our fingernails.
We’re going to close and have our time of giving. If you feel so inclined, I’m going to motivate, manipulate you into considering being part of seasonal volunteering for our Easter time. We need some help from all of our people who claim this to be their church and consider helping us, be a part of it at a deeper level. We’ll pray that this will happen at both campuses right now. I ask for your blessing Jesus, over our time. We’ve shared this word, maybe taken a tad a little bit longer than I might have, but I asked that you would be with us right now, convince our hearts about being a part of something that’s bigger than ourselves and investing even in small ways in the ways of service in your kingdom. Bless those who volunteer on our teams. Thank you for their sacrifice. I thank you for those who sacrifice, who’ve poured out their hearts on behalf of others in your name. I ask for your blessing as we close out the service in Jesus’ name, I pray this. Amen.